Excerpt from the novel in progress, Feb. 2012, MINDING HENRY LEWIS
Across the swayback bend in the creek, a shout erupted—young and female. A hundred yards downstream Celie raised her head where she stood in the otherwise still April sunshine, her arms crossed on the shovel handle. Moments before she’d let her chin rest there to catch her breath, though she’d told herself it was to admire the afternoon light on the creek, the glittering path it carved through the marsh and out to the broader river. She would be fifty-three in another month. Birthdays were milestones she’d never paid much attention to until the cancer. Something else, though, had been niggling in the back of her brain, undefined and ethereal. But as the sun penetrated and smoothed out the mental furrows, her mind let whatever it was float up and out of sight.
When the voice interrupted again, a distant blur of arm circled to match the girl’s instructions. “In. Swim in.”
Along the opposite marsh a random stick caught Celie’s eye as it slid past the ribbon of mud. The tide, holding steady, was about to turn for its run out. Above the treetops the soft spring sunset was still an hour or two away. She put one hand over her eyes and squinted at the girl, a blaze of white on the end of the weathered marina dock. The lanky shape in a man’s undershirt was too far away to discern features. In Celie’s mind the voice replayed itself, command more present than panic. But then the girl, whoever she was, jumped into the water, April water that four weeks ago had been iced over. When her head reappeared, she was paddling madly toward the dock. She yelled again, garbled, but sharper, more concern than before.
Celie scanned the water. Twenty feet out, well beyond the girl’s reach, a small dark circle was drifting into the channel. A dog, she thought. The girl scrambled back up onto the dock, her head twisted at an awkward angle to keep the brown spot in sight.
“No, here, toward me. Swim in,” she called more loudly above the widening space. This time the fear carried across the open afternoon.
Through the glaze Celie peered at the teenager on the pier. It was a still life, like the stark brightness of a camera flash, backlit, tantalizingly detailed inside the vague shadowy outlines where the hill lapped the sun and framed the scene. When a younger boy shot out of those shadows and up the hillside away from the water, his sneakers oddly silent on the old dock boards, Celie’s brain jerked forward. There was no adult with them. Almost as suddenly her brain registered trouble, those kids are in trouble. She stared harder at the dark spot in the water. In the next blink she realized it might not be a dog, it might be a child. Even if it were a dog, she told herself as she dropped the shovel and ran, they needed help.